top of page

Ethics, Morals Vs the Law - The Sad Reality

Updated: Jan 2, 2023

In the United States over 50 doctors have been accused of fertility fraud – using their own sperm to father children without the patients' knowledge or consent. Hundreds of children have been fathered by non-consensual insemination worldwide by their physicians. But these acts often go unpunished because while it is totally unethical it is not illegal in most countries.

In this presentation I will introduce ethics, morals and their relation to the law.

When children were conceived via artificial insemination in the 1970s and 1980s, sperm banks were not prevalent and the practice of freezing sperm was not widespread, so many physicians used so-called fresh sperm from donors. After the AIDS epidemic, physicians started using frozen sperm because it allowed donors to be retested for AIDS after six months.

Many physicians donated sperm as medical students in the 1960s and 1970s, and some observers believe that a number of doctors may have gone on to use their own sperm to treat infertility when they were trying to build a reputation for themselves as successful fertility doctors. In the United States, over fifty fertility doctors have been accused of fraud in connection with donating sperm according to a February 2022 news report.

Hundreds of children have been fathered by non-consensual insemination worldwide by their physicians, including in the United States, Canada, and the Netherlands, but without specific laws outlawing it, the legal consequences are unclear.

Sometimes other laws related to fertility fraud are used against the physician, such as mail, travel, or wire fraud, while others face civil suits. Some physicians have faced ethics charges by the governing bodies of their profession and lost their license to practice medicine.

These physicians’ actions may have been unethical, but they were not considered illegal at the time and therefore they could not be effectively prosecuted.

Dr Donald Cline

Between 1974 and 1987 Donald Cline a former American medical doctor of obstetrics & gynecology inseminated patients who came to his clinic with his own sperm without their consent or knowledge.

In 2014 when Jacoba Ballard, a daughter of a former patient of Dr. Cline, reviewed the results of her at-home DNA test, she discovered a biological connection to eight previously unknown half-siblings. Her genetic genealogy research ultimately revealed Cline, her mother's fertility doctor, as her biological father.

Ballard filed a complaint with the Attorney General of Indiana who initiated an investigation in 2015. Then Indiana attorney general Tim DeLaney declined to prosecute because "there was no law forbidding Cline’s conduct.“

Ballard then pursued media coverage. Fox59 anchor Angela Ganote investigated her story. During her investigation, she learned that Cline had lied to the attorney general's office in their investigation. Charges were filed against Cline in State of Indiana v. Donald Cline, Cline pleaded guilty to two Level 6 felony counts of obstruction of justice and received a one-year suspended sentence.

As of 11th May 2022, DNA testing confirmed Cline had fathered a total of 94 children. While this act is totally unethical and a breach of doctor patient privilege, at the time of the incursion it was not illegal for doctors to do this as there was no law prohibiting it.

As a result, Cline could not be prosecuted under the law for this unsavoury act. Other charges were brought against him, and he paid damages to some of the families running into millions of dollars, but he was never directly charged for violation of his victims' rights.

This is an example of an act being totally unethical but not illegal.

Netflix did a documentary on the story so you may want to watch it if it is still available to know more.

As of 2022 only four states in America—Colorado, Indiana, Texas, and Florida—have created laws to protect patients against future acts.

What are Ethics?

Generally speaking, moral principles that govern a person's behaviour or the conducting of an activity. It is also the branch of knowledge that deals with moral principles.

Ethics is based on well-founded standards of right and wrong that prescribe what humans ought to do, usually in terms of rights, obligations, benefits to society, fairness, or specific virtues. - Markkula Center for Applied Ethics

Ethics generally refer to the fair and just treatment and prevention of harm to other human beings, animals, the planet etc. Ethics promotes the prevention of physical, emotional or phycological harm to others. It promotes the rights of human beings, e.g. the right to live, the right to privacy, the right to freedom of expression etc.

In the case we looked at earlier there was extensive phycological and emotional harm done to the victims.

What Ethics is not?


Ethics does not equate to your feelings, though as an individual you may have very high ethical standards. But a person's feelings are very volatile and may be quite different depending on the circumstances. If someone does something offensive, one might “feel” ethically justified to take cause harm back in retaliation.

Religious beliefs

Ethics does not also equate to religious beliefs though most religions have very high ethical standards. Yet if ethics were confined to religion, then ethics would apply only to religious people. But ethics applies as much to the behavior of the atheist as to that of the devout religious person. Religion will however promote and motivate high standards of ethical behaviour.

The Law

Ethics is not the same as the law as we have seen in our case study. Being ethical is also not the same as following the law. The law often incorporates ethical standards to which most citizens subscribe. But laws, like feelings, can deviate from what is ethical. For example, once upon a time it was legal to own slaves.

Not what is generally accepted by society

Finally, being ethical is not the same as doing "whatever society accepts." In any society, most people accept standards that are, in fact, ethical. But standards of behavior in society can deviate from what is ethical. An entire society can become ethically corrupt.

What are Morals?

Morals are standards of behaviour - What you believe to be right and wrong.

Most often individuals determine their own moral standards.

Morals are the prevailing standards of behavior that enable people to live cooperatively in groups.

Moral values are relative values that protect life and are respectful of the dual life value of self and others.

A person who knows the difference between right and wrong and chooses right is moral. A person whose morality is reflected in his willingness to do the right thing – even if it is hard or dangerous – is ethical. Ethics are moral values in action. – McCombs School of Business.

Our relative moral values must be constantly examined to make sure that they are always performing their life-protecting mission-

What are Business Ethics?

"Business ethics is the study of business situations, activities, and decisions where issues of right and wrong are addressed". - Andrew Crane

The institute of Business Ethics states that Business Ethics is the application of ethical values to business behaviour. Business ethics is relevant both to the conduct of individuals and to the conduct of the organization as a whole. It applies to any and all aspects of business conduct, from boardroom strategies and how companies treat their employees and suppliers to sales techniques and accounting practices.

"The ethics of business is the ethics of responsibility. The businessman must promise that he will not harm knowingly.“ - Raymond C. Baumhart

Are Ethics the Same as Law?

No. The law refers to a systematic body of rules that governs the whole society and the actions of its individual members and is enforceable by punishment. The law refers to a systematic body of rules that governs the whole society and the actions of its individual members and is enforceable by punishment. Ethics are a personal set of rules by which an individual holds himself accountable.

Difference Between Ethics and the Law

Some ethical behaviour has been backed by law e.g. Lying under oath or committing murder.

But a lot of ethical norms are not.

E.g. Committing adultery is unethical but not illegal.

So, there are some grey areas between what is illegal and what may be considered unethical.

Remember Donald Cline who abused his position and took undue advantage of vulnerable people who came to him for professional help?

Don’t be like him. Always, always, always do the ethical thing



I hope this has been insightful, please feel free to like and share and leave me a comment.

Always remember - inspire, influence, and impact your world.

Written by Lady Shayo Imologome FCA, MBA

Business Growth Strategist, Management Consultant, and Keynote Speaker

Request Lady Shayo to speak at your event? Click Here


Images: Google

Sources and Further Reading,between%20alternative%20courses%20of%20action.,and%20also%20change%20over%20time,their%20freedom%20to%20choose%20rationally.,moral%20character%20than%20their%20values.

Recent Posts

See All


bottom of page